Sunday, 3 March 2013

Omitted material: Marvel Team-Up 79

Once more it's time for a diversion to look at an issue where Marvel no longer have the rights to publish the guest star. This time it's Marvel Team-Up #79, in which Spider-Man teams up with Red Sonja, who is now licensed to Dynamite Entertainment. The issue has had a few reprints over the years – whilst Marvel still held the rights they included it in Mighty Marvel Team-Up Thrillers, a 1983 trade paperback, then in Marvel Tales #208. More recently in 2007 Marvel teamed up with Dynamite to produce a special Spider-Man/Red Sonja limited series that serves as a sequel to this story and the trade paperback published the following year includes the Team-Up issue as well.

Red Sonja herself is a sword-wielding hero from the Hyborian Age, a fictional era thousands of years ago in which many sword and sorcery tales take place, best associated with Conan the Barbarian. This issue is by the-then regular Team-Up team of Chris Claremont and John Byrne, and is Byrne's last regular issue.

The story is relatively straightforward, focusing on a small cast. Kulan Gath's body was killed in his own time by Red Sonja, but he transferred his spirit to an amulet which has been found in the present day and is now part of a New York museum exhibit. There the amulet possesses a security guard, transforming him into Gath who sets about trying to reincarnate the gods he serves. Peter is dispatched from the Bugle's Christmas party (where one of the guests is Clark Kent!) to photograph the strange events, but Mary Jane opts to follow for the excitement and even pursues Peter into the museum. There Spider-Man fights monsters and Mary Jane finds herself drawn to a glowing sword that transforms her into Red Sonja. Neither hero can understand the other, but Gath's magic allows him to communicate with both as he captures them and prepares to sacrifice them. However they break free and Spidey knocks his foe outside where the confusion of modern New York overwhelms Gath, allow the amulet to be removed. Gath transforms back into the security guard and Red Sonja into Mary Jane as everything returns to normal. Later Peter finds the amulet tries to possess him so he flings it away in the ocean.

With only seventeen pages this is a very brief story that doesn't have much time to do more than throw the two heroes together to defeat the threat. Perhaps that’s why Spider-Man and Red Sonja are unable to understand each other's language when normally this is no barrier in fiction. There's also no exploration of how Mary Jane reacts to having been possessed, or how Peter feels about seeing one of his girlfriends (the opening page has the first ever mention of Cissy Ironwood beginning a brief era of multiple girlfriends) in a steel bikini – for many this would be beyond their wildest dreams. And I'm rather unfamiliar with Red Sonja's continuity and have no idea whether this is meant to be the original or the reincarnated version from her own series, nor for that matter at what point in her life she's come from. Perhaps it would have been best to make this story a two-parter to allow more room to breathe, but that could have brought additional problems with having to bring in another guest character. Instead the emphasis is very much on just having the two heroes in action together – and Byrne draws both of them well.

As is so often the case with omitted material it really isn't something to construct legends around. This is if anything a below average issue of the series, largely due to the different eras of the two heroes requiring more space than usual to bring them together, leaving very little space to tell the story in. It may have spawned multiple sequels (as well as the aforementioned limited series there was also a two-part story in Uncanny X-Men that saw Gath return and transform the whole of Manhattan) but the original is more idea than substance. This is not one to search high and low for.

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